Thursday, June 10, 2021

After six months of blocking roads to Delhi Farmer Agitation On Road to Nowhere By Amba Charan Vashishth Since the end of 2019 a new phenomenon of agitations has emerged to demand outright rejection of laws passed by the Parliament. A few hundred people in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh laid seize of roads leading to Delhi demanding scrapping of CAA and NRC acts alleging that these were intended to deprive the Muslim community of its Indian citizenship. Later, a section of farmers also rose against the three agriculture laws and sat dharna blocking the roads leading to Delhi. When challenged to name the particular sections of law which were against the Muslim community or were intended to harm the interests farming community in the three laws. The agitators failed to identify any section of law. Yet they did not relent and continued to press for outright burial of these laws not on the strength of logic and truth but to satisfy with the whims of a minor section of people. It means that no law passed by the Parliament will be a law unless ‘ratified’ by a an unruly mob of agitators harassing the people by jamming traffic at national highways. The crowd of farmers blocking national highways leading to the national capital Delhi is getting thinner and thinner day by day. Some farmer unions earlier part of the agitation have since parted company with Rakesh Tikait. Many farmers had to go back to their villages to reap the harvest they had sown. Many of them, according to media reports, felt elated when the sale money of their crop, to their surprise, was instantly transferred to their account. This had never happened before. The farmers’ agitation has been there for the past over six months with no immediate solution in sight. The leaders now seem to be looking for an honourable and safe exit. That is why on May 22, 2021 the farm leaders wrote to PM Narender Modi “to remind” him that, as the head of the government of the largest democracy in the world, “the onus of resuming a serious and sincere dialogue with the farmers lies with you.” They seem to want to end the agitation yet remain steadfast on their demand to scrap the three Acts: the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. Government has expressed its willingness to once again enter into dialogue if farm leaders with a logical proposal. The NDA Government did not stand on prestige. It immediately entered into a dialogue process with the agitation leaders mainly from Punjab, Rajasthan, and some parts of Haryana and UP to iron out the differences over provisions which, farmers’ unions claimed, pinched the farmers. During the eleven rounds of talks, farmer leaders could not put their finger on a single such a provision in these Acts. Their apprehensions about their lands being usurped by big companies were allayed. Yet, they continued with their chorus for outright scrapping of the Acts. In other words, the agitators wanted to make the democratic process bow before the whims of a mob, something not in tune with the spirit of democracy. Democracy runs with the fuel of truth and logic, not with the rod of whims. Difference of opinion is the very bane of a democracy. Unanimity is not the rule, but an exception. Differences should dissolve into acceptance once an Act appears on the statute book. MAJORITY RULE IN JUDICIARY The rule by majority pervades in the judiciary too. There are instances when judgements in High Courts (HC) and the Supreme Court (SC) are not unanimous —three or four judges for and two or one against. Verdict by majority reigns supreme as the final order of the court. The minority judgements just cater to academic interest and nothing more. No judge in minority has ever claimed the superiority of his opinion over that of the majority. The government had offered to freeze the three laws for 18 months during which time some agreement could be thrashed out. It was also ready to give in writing that the system of Minimum Support Price (MSP) would continue. It was introduced in the country in 1966-67. Since then, while the hue of the governments at the Centre and the states underwent changes many times, yet no government or political party has ever demanded doing away with it. On the other hand, MSP has only seen a rise throughout. SC ORDER In the meantime, the SC too stayed implementation of these laws for the time being. It constituted a four-member committee (one member withdrew) to hear both the government and the farmers on controversial sections of the law. Many farmer leaders from different states have appeared before this committee. The committee is to submit its report to the SC which will pronounce its judgement after that. The farmer leaders have decided not to appear before the SC appointed committee. They also remain uncommitted whether they will respect the verdict of the highest court of the country. Their silence seems to indicate that they will abide by SC judgement only if it is in conformity with their demands. At the end of the last meeting the NDA government put the ball in the court of the agitators saying the government is just a phone call away to resume the dialogue if they come out with a concrete proposal. Farm leaders even now look to be groping in the dark without any proposal to break the empasse. It is interesting to note that the new letter signed by leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha does not bear the signatures of Rakesh Tikait who had so far been the main person leading the agitation. What it signifies is anybody’s guess. Of late, a new tendency — extra-constitutional, of course — has raised its head refusing to respect the will of parliament, the embodiment of the will of the people. This attempt started with the demand for scrapping of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens Act (NRC) in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh where a few hundred local citizens blocked roads for a few weeks. In a way it looks the farmers’ agitation has taken a cue from the Shaheen Bagh tactics. The Shaheen Bagh agitation raised the bogey of the CAA and NRC having been enacted to deprive the citizenship of Indian Muslims. Similarly, farmer agitators allege that the 3 Acts were against the interests of farmers. Both were adamant to demand scrapping of the Acts. Government challenged opponents in both cases to pinpoint the sections in these laws which were against the Muslims and farmers. Both failed to accept the challenge, yet they continued to insist on removing these Acts. The Supreme Court in one of its judgements opined that though people had the right to protest yet they had no right to deny the right of free passage to the commuters. The Delhi police did well not to use force to evict the squatters. With the passage of time Shaheen Bagh agitation withered away of its own. In the beginning, the farmer’s unions vehemently affirmed that their agitation had nothing to do with politics. For some time they did keep political leaders at bay from their stage. Yet, most political parties in the opposition made a beeline to assure their full support to the farmers’ agitation. The kisan leaders also want a statutory assurance that the minimum support price (MSP) would never be done away with. Grant of MSP had its origin in 1966-67 and since then it has remained in force despite change in the hue of the governments in power at the Centre and states. The NDA Government expressed its willingness to give a commitment in writing. On June 09 NDA government has announced increase in MSP of certain kharif and paddy crops including pulses. Rakesh Tikait and other kisan leaders wanted to observe the Republic Day on January 26 by taking out a tractor parade. They assured the administration that the march with national flags fluttering on their vehicles will be the most disciplined and peaceful. But what happened was the reverse of it. A section of the protesting farmers digressed towards the Red Fort which area they had never said they planned to go. What they did at the Red Fort was a disgrace, a well-planned operation executed with precision. On the one hand, the farmer leaders disowned their role in the Red Fort shame and, on the other, the person whose tractor overturned while performing tricks and died on the spot is being eulogised as a martyr to their cause. Tikait is on record having said before the media why did the police not open fire. That is what they wanted. Firing by police would have generated sympathy and legitimacy to their cause. The role of the Delhi Police on duty at the Red Fort was praiseworthy for keeping their cool despite grave provocation. Had a single person died in police action the ‘secular-liberal’ intelligentsia and a section of media would have shouted from their housetops that innocent people have been slaughtered on Republic Day. The agitation from the very beginning sufferred from lack of inner strength of unity of thought and action. Whenever they went to have discussions with the Government of India, it was not led by a single leader or a delegation of three-four persons but by a crowd of about 40 persons. It was also an indication of absence of trust between various unions. The siege of the national capital with dharnas held a mirror to a display of an affluence of the participants. They were seen travelling in the costliest of luxury cars. The breakfast, lunch and dinner served at the agitation sites did not present the picture of the plight of the common farmer who cannot make both ends meet with his small holdings and meager returns from the produce, some even resorting to suicides. On the other hand, it sent the viewers’ mouth watering, wishing they too should have been there to enjoy those tasty and sumptuous meals. The opulence of the agitators on display at the sites failed to attract the sympathy of the common man. Adoption of unconstitutional, extra-constitutional and undemocratic methods to achieve political objectives which some people and political parties failed to achieve through democratic means can never stand the test of law and the constitution. Adoption of such techniques seems to have boomeranged on the agitators. VIRUS SPREADERS While many in opposition and some in the media raised a great hue and cry over the Kumbh mela having acted as a spreader of the Covid-19, they maintained a stoic silence on the sit-in by farmers who deliberately defied the virus protocol for the last over six months. They even refused to get vaccinated. The spurt in Covid cases in Punjab, Haryana, UP and Rajasthan could be attributed to the agitators. Now it looks the agitation is running out of steam. It has almost disappeared from the print and electronic media. In frustration they have started gheraoing local leaders who are not with them. West Bengal CM Mamta Banerjee is reported to have invited kisan leader Rakesh Tikait to Kolkata. This should be read with the report that she is now toying with the idea to spread her TMC’s wings to other states. She may try to exploit the farmer agitation for her party’s political ends. To what extent the interests of the farmers will these leaders be able to promote by playing into the hands of political parties remains anybody’s guess. *** The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator.

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